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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Units
History of The Units - The Early Years: 1977 - 1983
Community Library

Rating: 8.2/10 ?

July 30, 2009
The Units were not proponents of the guitar. They were one of the (if not The) original synthpunk pioneers that broke away from rock 'n' roll standards by not using electric guitars and they made great jams while doing so. A new compilation - History of The Units - The Early Years: 1977-1983 - helps listeners understand that the anti-guitar angst was not some cutesy gimmick but an attempt by four musicians to get away from established music-cultural norms and to provide an outlet for new sound and style conventions. Without The Units and others of their ilk, the current rock 'n' roll and electronic music scenes would not be what they are today.

[Just real quick, here are a couple quotes from the album's expansive, 32-page inner booklet:

"I'm saying that by playing guitars for the music business that you are just playing into the same old 'business as usual' commercial bullshit formula that has plagued us all for years."

"I wanted a band that was completely different, not just some spin off. I didn't want to follow the recipe."]

Despite the disclaimers, the music contained here sounds a bit like what you would expect from that being tagged as 'new wave/'70s synthpunk.' History of The Units collects plenty of material - bootlegs, singles and other odds and ends - from the band's early catalog and puts 21 tracks together, giving the anthology a sonically diverse character and spanning from the expected to the experimental.

Often, The Units use synthesizers as exact substitutes for standard rock instrumentation. In these moments - like upbeat standouts "Cannibals," "High Pressure Days" - the band might remind listeners of more acknowledged contemporaries Devo or Suicide, with similar monotone vocal delivery, eccentric song topics ("Bug Boy"), catchy punk-styled melodies, and bouncy aggressive drum attacks. But at their core, they are verse/chorus/verse songs, hardly that different.

Where many new wave and punk bands stuck to that tried and true, straight-ahead approach for most of their catalog, The Units have equally attractive alternative limbs to their writing. "Contemporary Emotions," "Bird River," "Warm Moving Bodies," and "Tight Fit" are explorations of the proggy element that Moog machines often bring with them (programmed arpeggios, percussive tones, et al.), while "East West 2" and "Zombo" are precursors to the experimental electronic standards from artists like Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, or even modern classical pianist Craig Armstrong.

Without releasing History, the listening community is not that much different, more for ignorance of rock music's underground past than anything. However with Community Library archiving an obscure but important collective we are all better off, if only for discovering another intriguing album that we can retrospectively appreciate for its place in the grand scheme of things.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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